How many times have you heard this when someone is talking about the FAA? "They have some really good people at the local FSDO" or "My PIO is really a nice guy, but
" and then the sentence trails off into a litany of how miserable it can be to work with the FAA at the down-in-the-trenches level.
I thought of this the other day when I called Hal Shevers for an opinion on another issue. At the end of that conversation, he described for me an unhappy series of events that led him to ask the staff of the local FSDO to go elsewhere to rent airplanes.
As many of you know, in addition to operating the Sporty's pilot emporium, Shevers has a flight school at the Batavia, Ohio Airport, where he has some newish Cessnas on the line. Anyone who knows Hal also knows that he's Mr. Aviation when it comes to promoting anything to do with flying. If ever there were an unconditional booster of all things aeronautical, it's Shevers. To him, turning away an aircraft renter is a sacrilege.
But all of us have our limits, thus Shevers found himself at the local FSDO recently gently informing the staff that they would no longer be welcome to rent airplanes at Sporty's. Why? Several incidents, but in general, Shevers said, when the inspectors showed up to fly, the smooth tick of a well-run flightschool starting skipping a few teeth. Instructors and students became paranoid and the inspectors had a habit of turning their visits into impromptu inspection sessions, disrupting the daily routine and making it more difficult than it already is to conduct business at a profit.
In one incident, an inspector shutdown the flightschool-it's a Part 141 operation-because there were no partitions between the test-taking stations. The school addressed the issue and reopened the next day. Sporty's still does multi-engine training in an old Aztec and on one flight, it got away from one of the FAAers during landing. The crumped landing caught one of the props and, is usually the case, insurance paid for most of the repairs. But most is not all and when Shevers asked the FAA to make him whole on rest, the agency dragged it out for months until an FAA lawyer told him he just didn't have time to crack the file. He offered Shevers 90 percent of his claim. "I can't make money recovering 90 percent of my costs," Shevers says.
These events illuminate two issues about the FAA. While it may be true that the agency is staffed by nice guys whose hearts are in the right place, the reality is they often render services with sad incompetence in ways that are utterly ignorant of the needs of the people they are supposed to serve. If I was the manager of this FSDO--or any FAA manager, for that matter--I'd be embarrassed to have someone of Shever's stature ask me to take my business elsewhere. I'd be further mortified to learn that this sort of thing was going on under my watch without my knowledge. Oh, and Hal tells me the inspectors are as nice as they can be.
The larger issue is the cost-benefit of FAA services for general aviation. In case you're still in denial, know this: segments of the industry are about to go on life support, due to high fuel costs and the general softness of the economy. The industry can ill afford pointless regulation that delivers no benefit and I can assure you that closing down a flightschool for lack of office partitions is about as pointless and lacking in benefit as it gets. There was a day when the FAA--it was called the CAA then--would have given a friendly reminder on something like this, but no more.
We are rapidly reaching the point where, simply as a means of survival, light aircraft GA needs to transition away from detailed FAA oversight. We can no longer afford and do not need this kind of government regulation for little airplanes. Bluntly, it, along with high fuel prices, is killing us.
Going forward into the next presidential administration, the cost of government services will become a post-election issue because governance has found such a bottom-dwelling nadir that it can only go up from here. But the money won't be flowing like water so agencies that waste it should find themselves on the chopping block.
That argues for the FAA spending its time and money doing what it ought to: competent, careful and cost-effective oversight of for-hire aviation and consulting advice on everything else.
The rest of the world ought to be jolly well left alone to police itself.